This past week has been all about the conferences in FCS college football.
Three announcements of future moves to the FBS involve FCS power programs – James Madison to the Sun Belt in a messy divorce from the CAA and defending national champion Sam Houston and Jacksonville State to Conference USA with we-hardly-knew-you departures from the WAC and ASUN, respectively.
Fortunately by week’s end, the talk of conference title races grabbed the spotlight again.
Here are 10 takeaways from a terrific schedule of games in Week 10:
Ward, Kelley stage unbelievable QB battle
The passing numbers were mind-boggling in No. 22 UIW’s 55-52 win over No. 6 Southeastern Louisiana, which tied up first place in the Southland. SLU’s Cole Kelley and UIW’s Cameron Ward passed for 647 and 610 yards, respectively – the fourth- and ninth-highest single-game totals in FCS history. Ward, the reigning Jerry Rice Award winner, completed 34 of 52 passes and seven touchdowns with one interception. He connected with Robert Ferrel for a go-ahead 24-yard TD with 25 seconds remaining. Kelley, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner, was 50 of 68 and three touchdowns. Three of the six all-time games in which an FCS signal caller had 50 or more completions have occurred this season (also Samford’s Liam Welch and Presbyterian’’s Ren Hefley).
Jacksonville State’s Grass steps down
One day after Jacksonville State was announced as a future member of Conference USA (expected on July 1, 2023), John Grass coached his final game at his alma mater, announcing a mutual resignation from the school following a 40-25 victory over Abilene Christian. While the 53-year-old was 72-26 in eight seasons – posting a .735 winning percentage that was the fourth-highest among current FCS coaches with at least 50 games – 14 of the losses have occurred in the last three seasons, creating unrest among alumni and fans. His teams won six Ohio Valley Conference titles and the 2015 squad was the FCS runner-up.
Sam Houston, James Madison 1-2 in point differential, maybe in poll
Speaking of the other two teams that are the latest to be FBS-bound, top-ranked Sam Houston (8-0) could be followed by James Madison (8-1) as the top two teams in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 on Monday. Set to participate in the FCS playoffs for the final time this season, they also rank first and second nationally in point differential, with the Bearkats outscoring opponents by 211 (347-136) and James Madison tied with South Dakota State in being up 209 on opponents (347-138). In the Dukes’ 51-14 rout of Campbell, wide receiver Kris Thornton set the school’s single-game record with four touchdown receptions.
Jackrabbits show how ‘Strong’ they are
South Dakota State has split four of its last eight meetings with rival North Dakota State since 2016. That is impressive enough given NDSU’s dynasty last decade, but consider since the start of the Bison’s first of eight FCS championship seasons in 2011, no team other than SDSU has more than one win. As the No. 9 Jackrabbits retained the Dakota Marker trophy with a 27-19 triumph, All-American Pierre Strong Jr. took over the FCS rushing lead with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, going over 1,000 yards in a season for the third time. He also threw for an 11-yard touchdown on a trick play. In his career, Strong has completed all eight of his pass attempts for 198 yards and five scores – an incredible 514.2 passing efficiency rating.
Bobcats earn statement win in Big Sky
Fourth-ranked Montana State kept the FCS’ No. 1-ranked offense in check while beating No. 5 Eastern Washington 23-20 to end a seven-game losing streak in their Big Sky series. Linebackers Troy Andersen and Callahan O’Reilly had 15 and 13 tackles, respectively. Equally impressive, Isaiah Ifanse matched his career high with 217 rushing yards on a workhorse 32 carries, scoring from 43 yards out to provide a 23-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats (8-1, 6-0) have the best record for an FCS team that’s under a first-year coach, Brent Vigen.
Four 0-8 teams triumph
Eight was enough – season-opening losses, that is. Four 0-8 teams earned their first wins: Lehigh, 38-6 over Bucknell in the Patriot League to end a program-worst 15-game losing streak; Albany, 20-7 over New Hampshire in the CAA to end an 11-game slide; Bethune-Cookman, 35-31 over Alcorn State in the SWAC; and Morgan State, 20-14 over Delaware State in the MEAC. The remaining winless teams are Dixie State, Houston Baptist and Wagner – each 0-9.
Dartmouth sets four-season wins record
Dartmouth handed No. 20 Princeton its first loss of the season 31-7, which left both teams at 7-1 and tied atop the Ivy League standings at 4-1. Quarterback Derek Kyler threw three touchdown passes, while defensive end Shane Cokes collected 2.5 of the Big Green’s six sacks and cornerback Isaiah Johnson scored on a 75-yard interception return. Their 14 super seniors whose careers began in 2017 have produced the most wins (33) over any four consecutive seasons in program history, and their .868 winning percentage (33-5) in that time is the second-highest in the FCS to North Dakota State (.923, 60-5).
In OVC, they’re INT(Ds)
Interceptions were a big storyline in all three Ohio Valley Conference games. Austin Peay’s Johnathon Edwards matched the FCS single-game high this season with three interceptions – all in the first half of a 42-26 win over Eastern Illinois. Also, there was a pick-six in each game – Eastern Illinois’ Tyris Harvey with a 29-yard TD return, Murray State’s Marcis Floyd with a 90-yarder as part of his two interceptions in the Racers’ 32-27 win over Tennessee Tech, and John Ford with a 75-yarder to cap conference-leading UT Martin’s 41-20 victory over Tennessee State.
Chestnut, Grant a tandem again for NEC-leading Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart not only took sole possession of first place in the Northeast Conference standings, but the defending champ got spring FCS rushing leader Julius Chestnut back from an opening-game injury to pair again with Malik Grant, who entered the weekend as the fall national rushing leader. They combined for 160 yards on 35 carries in Sacred Heart’s 14-13 escape against Saint Francis. The Pioneers (6-3, 4-1) are one game ahead of four 3-2 teams – Bryant, Central Connecticut State, Duquesne and Saint Francis – and finish the regular season against a Wagner program on an FCS-high 18-game losing streak and LIU.
Rhode Island provides 11th FCS win over the FBS
Rhode Island (6-3) overcame three straight CAA losses of at least 21 points by beating UMass 35-22 for its second all-time win over an FBS opponent. Quarterback Kasim Hill passed for two touchdowns and added two on the ground, while linebacker L.B. Mack III had 3.5 sacks in the 89th all-time meeting between the schools, but the first since 2011. URI’s win marked the 11th by an FCS team against FBS opposition this season – the most since there were 16 in 2013.